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At Manchester, August 12, 13, 14, 15, 16. England won by seven wickets. Toss: West Indies. Test debut: S. C. Joseph.
Beneath one of the few circles of blue in otherwise ugly skies, England won their sixth successive Test, the winning run coming with 27 overs to go, shortly before the long-forecast rain finally returned. They were piloted home by Key, continuing to enjoy his comeback as Butcher was kept out by a string of injuries. Key's success was the latest example of how things were falling right for England, where once they fell apart. Even the fickle and ill-tempered Manchester weather god smiled at the crucial moment.
Besides the weather, which washed away the second day, England had to overcome a stiffened West Indies. By the fourth evening, Lara's side had built a strong position - 153 ahead with nine wickets left - only for it to crumble beneath their feet. That left England chasing 231, tricky by historical standards, a breeze in their golden summer. Victory bolstered their new reputation for grit when things got tough: of the last eight Tests where they were either behind on first innings, or less than 30 ahead, they had won four and lost just one.
But the match provided a glimmer for West Indies - all the brighter because Lara, so often their crutch, made just seven runs. A battling performance confounded commentators predicting disaster. They arrived dispirited, 2-0 down, and their pre-match practice was condemned by Jonathan Agnew as the worst he had seen in 13 years as BBC cricket correspondent. They made four changes from Edgbaston: Antiguan opener Sylvester Joseph got his debut, replacing out-of-form Devon Smith; Baugh and Edwards came in for the injured Jacobs and Lawson; and Mohammed's wrist-spin was preferred to Banks's off-breaks. England were unchanged, and Flintoff beamed that he had not known a happier dressing-room.
But Lara was also able to smile a little when he won an important toss. In the previous Tests, England racked up 560-plus batting first: now West Indies, having handed over the opportunity at Lord's, had another chance to bat England out of the game on a dry pitch that was expected to deteriorate. In the end, they made it to lunch on the third day - helped by the rain - and totalled 395. Five batsmen got in but none played a telling innings, though Chanderpaul, with his open stance and off-side technique, and Bravo, classically correct, threatened to do it. They stood firm to add 157 on a surface where the occasional ball was already starting to leap or scuttle. But both edged behind in successive overs from Hoggard, leaving West Indies 275 for six when bad light stopped play. The wet second day was gloomy for a sell-out crowd and, despite the sunshine, much of the third was gloomy for England. They bowled too short, too often, and the ball flew off edge and middle as the tail added 120. Lunch was taken at the fall of the ninth wicket.
After the break, England's fielders emerged, ready to wrap up the innings. But the batsmen never arrived; Lara appeared at the pavilion door, waving to signify that he had declared. Word was that Collins - who had retired after being hit on the chin by a Flintoff bumper but indicated that he would resume - changed his mind at the last minute. Cynics suspected a ploy to stop the openers using the lunch break to psych up. Indeed, Trescothick fell second ball and, at 40 for three, England were in trouble.
That gave West Indies what Fletcher later called a "window of opportunity"; stronger opponents might have climbed through and stolen the game. As it was, England, and Thorpe in particular, banged it shut. He and Strauss, his equal in technique and temperament, calmly added 177, though Bravo removed Strauss and Flintoff before the close. Thorpe had already had a huge let-off: on 58, he lobbed a catch to Sarwan at point, who handled it like soap in a bath.
The match pivoted round that miss. Thorpe reached 114, despite a 93.7mph Edwards thunderbolt which broke his hand on 91. His innings was exactly what England needed. The pitch was grudging, the bowling straight - and in the case of the slingy Edwards terrifying. But somehow they weathered his brutal six-over morning spell, and Trescothick remained Edwards's only victim; some of his missing luck lighted on Bravo, who took six for 55 with his medium-fast swingers. The night-watchman, Hoggard, supported Thorpe for 17 of the 22 overs bowled before lunch, a rate that later cost the West Indians 20% of their fee and Lara 40%. The innings included 18 wides, a Test record.
West Indies were still 65 ahead on first innings, and on the face of it were favourites. But no-one really believed that, least of all the players. One false move triggered an avalanche of despairing batsmen, as the score plunged from 88 for one to 161 for nine. The collapse began with a suicidal drive from Gayle and a sprawling catch at long-on by Hoggard. Roared on by the capacity crowd, England's bowlers swarmed through the opening. Immediately, Vaughan brought back Flintoff. Lara hit the first ball of his spell for four, to become the fourth man to 10,000 Test runs, in his 111th Test and 195th innings, fewer than the other three: Sunil Gavaskar, Allan Border and Steve Waugh. But the third was a nasty lifter which he fended to slip: Flintoff had now dismissed him three times in 20 balls. After the colossus fell, the rest tumbled in a riot of poor shots. Harmison's four wickets made him the first Test bowler to take 50 in 2004.
England now had to score 231, a record to win in the fourth innings of an Old Trafford Test, while dodging the predicted showers. Their luck held. Key, all puffed-chest defiance in an unbeaten 93, led them home as the dark clouds loomed, bursting only during the lunch break. He was helped by curiously defensive fields, by Mohammed bowling just six overs of wrist-spin on a crumbling surface, and by his pal Flintoff, who was sensibly restrained in making a seventh fifty in successive Tests. Vaughan had already said Flintoff was currently the world's best player. It was a long time since England could have made such a claim, and the match ended with another unaccustomed statement. After their years battling with inadequate talent and despondency, coach Duncan Fletcher warned England they faced a new enemy - complacency.
Man of the Match: G. P. Thorpe.